“We shall not wait for Karamoja to develop”, is a common phrase alluded to when people are discussing Uganda’s development. The description was first used by the then Prime Minister of Uganda, Dr Apollo Milton Obote, in 1963 when he visited Karamoja region.
This statement breaks Emily Ayen, 21, whenever she hears it and she has purposed to do everything she can to change the status quo. Ayen, 21, Miss Tourism Karamoja and first runners up of Miss Tourism Uganda in 2018, could not come to terms with the fact that many children, especially from Karamoja region continue to seek refuge on the streets of Kampala.
“During Christmas days, some Karamojong go back home after saving some money. They paint a beautiful picture of their lifestyle in Kampala. They make people in Karamoja believe that there is too much money in Kampala and they end up coming back with a group of about 10 others after Christmas” Ayen explains.
This has inspired Ayen to venture into campaigns aimed at resettling Karimojong street children and improving their welfare. She says the situation in slums is so horrifying. The children lack proper housing facilities, hygiene is poor, and the cost of living is too high yet they do not work, something that exposes them to diseases. “I am aware that street children pay to use latrines. Those who don’t have money use polythene bag, Ayen explains.
She says some girls sit around trenches most of the days during menstruation periods because they lack sanitary towels. Besides begging on the streets, Ayen says that the Karimojong earn money by working in down town restaurants around Kampala as well as sort beans in markets.
Ayen, who worked together with Karimojong students in different institutions of learning in Kampala, reached out to more than 50 Karimojong living in Katwe slums. While there, Ayen donated items including; clothing, sanitary towels, soap and sugar. “We ran a fundraising campaign in schools, clubs and areas around Kampala and we managed to raise some good amount of money which yielded some good money that contributed to my charity project,” Ayen says. She adds that besides donating, she took details of some of the children in the slums and got the names of their relatives, their age and where they come from in the Karamoja region.
Ayen organised a group of other youth recently and carried out a charity drive in Katwe slums under her charity organisation called ‘Bring A Smile’. The charity drive was aimed at reaching out to the Karimojong community living in Katwe.
“If people who are not from Karamoja always find it easy to give some help to these Karimojong on the streets then why not me who can relate well with them”, Ayen said.
During a lengthy chat with them, the Karimojong told her that some of them were born in Kampala and they don’t know relatives in Karamoja and they don’t want to go back there because their parents are here with them, most of them were trafficked and some of them were influenced by others to relocate to Kampala.
What she plans to do
Ayen plans to open up a small crafts shop for children who do not want to leave the streets. “Karimojong are talented in making crafts. So I will open one of the shops for them and they will be making beads and other crafts for sale”, Ayen says. She intends to conduct a major charity drive to encourage children to stay and work in Karamoja region. She hopes to raise enough funds to build Manyattas (the Karimojong houses) to accommodate street children.
Who is Emily Ayen
Ayen comes from a humble Christian background. She also grew up in Karamoja region in Kotido District. She went to Immaculate Heart Primary School in Mpigi, St Joseph Girls School in Nsambya for O-level and Nabisunsa Girls School for A-level. She is currently at Kyambogo University pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Reproductive Health.
She is passionate about social change and intends to use any platforms to change lives.